New DoD strategy gets after housing on military installations

DoD installations are so outdated, they either need significant upgrades to their infrastructure or outright replacements.

Most of the Defense Department’s installations are so outdated, they either require significant upgrades to their infrastructure or outright replacements to meet basic quality of life standards.

But the Pentagon is getting serious about remedying deteriorating conditions of military installations that have been plagued by structural issues, toxic waste, pests and mold, among other problems.

A new strategy for resilient and healthy defense communities, unveiled Thursday, represents a shift in how the Pentagon thinks about improving community infrastructure and approaching future military construction projects.

“The challenge that we have in front of us is significant. We have been underinvesting in infrastructure. For decades, we have been prioritizing the mission readiness aspects and taking risks in the areas that have installations. And rather than try to MilCon our way out of this particular problem, what this strategy represents is how we can reorient our direction and our path forward to allow us to be able to understand that it’s not about how much we build but what we build and how we center people,” Brendan Owens, assistant secretary of Defense for energy, installations and environment, told reporters on Thursday during a press briefing.

The department is having a “significant” push around unaccompanied housing, which has fallen short of DoD’s own housing standards for quite some time. Specifically, it wants to create livability standards across four dimensions, including health, safety, functionality and reliability.

“We are centering everything that we’re doing in [unaccompanied housing] around making sure that we are understanding what the soldier, the sailors, airmen and marines need out of their facilities in order to make sure that the version of themselves that shows up to work the next day after spending a night in a barracks or a dorm is the best version of themselves to execute their mission,” Owens said.

As part of the effort to improve living conditions on military installations, the Pentagon plans to integrate those livability standards into its policies and its Unified Facilities Criteria system. It will inform the department’s infrastructure planning, design, construction and modernization efforts.

The department also plans to invest in its digital infrastructure, which will allow service members and their families to access virtual healthcare, education and remote work.

The Pentagon owns 538 installations around the world, but almost 80% of those installations were built before 1970. About 33% of all DoD’s assets are more than 50 years old.

The estimated value of DoD’s maintenance backlog currently stands at $134 billion. Additionally, extreme weather events, including flooding, hurricanes and wildfires, result in significant financial costs for recovery efforts.

Owens said the department recognizes the gap that persists between current living conditions at military facilities and the quality standards. Given that, it’s important to not just invest more but to invest better. The strategy is a starting point to guide those efforts.

“We are trying to make sure that all of the work that we’re doing under this broader strategy is really setting up conditions so that our people can thrive,” Owens said. “The transformation that’s happening in terms of how we talk about these things, the vocabulary that we are using, it’s the start of that. But hopefully, this is going to be something that I expect it to be something that is carried forward for decades to come.”

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